The Changing Face of Heroin Use

The Changing Face of Heroin UseNot too many years ago, heroin was associated with urban and minority use. Heroin chic was a brief phase in which waif-thin models with dark-circled eyes were associated with the drug. But the public backlash aroused over the image made it a short-lived trend. Researchers say that today’s heroin users look much different. The face of contemporary heroin use is young, white, suburban and well-acquainted with prescription opioids.

According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, as many as 900,000 of the world’s 9.2 million heroin users live in the U.S. Researchers took a look at the last 50 years to see how heroin use trends have changed during that time. They based their conclusions on surveys taken by 9,346 addiction recovery patients between 2010 and 2013. Of that number, 2,797 patients said that heroin was the drug they most often abused.

Investigation showed that nearly 83 percent of those surveyed reported first using heroin as adolescents back in the 1960s. People who started using heroin before 1980 were just as apt to be non-white as white. However, those who began using heroin in more recent years started down the path of opioid abuse by first taking prescription drugs. And, unlike their predecessors, close to 90 percent of those who started using heroin after 2003 are white, non-urban dwellers.

Many believe that the uptick in heroin use being witnessed by law enforcement, social commentators and addiction treatment specialists is linked to the recent prescription drug epidemic, and this study appears to confirm that. People (often young, white suburbanites) with a prescription habit are transferring to the street drug in droves. There are several reasons why.

For starters, heroin is considerably cheaper than prescription opioids. Recent efforts by law enforcement to tighten the supply of these drugs have driven the price up considerably. Young people often get their first taste of opioids with a legitimate prescription or by raiding the medicine cabinet at home. But as awareness of the danger has grown, access to these painkillers has become more difficult.

Prescription opioids are now harder to come by and can cost as much as $60 per pill. Heroin provides a similar sensation for pennies on the dollar. And it is readily available. It’s been reported that drug dealers now make regular trips into suburbia in order to supply former prescription drug users with the cheaper street equivalent.

Heroin use no longer carries the stigma it once did. The drug has become acceptable, especially after high-profile confessions and well-publicized celebrity overdoses. The face of heroin has changed, but the dangers have not. It remains a devastating drug with a high risk for overdose and, for those who inject it, of serious infection, including hepatitis C. Young people today have no recollection of the grim face associated with heroin in the past. And that could be a very bad thing.

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